Athlon Interview: Jamie Dixon

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Athlon sits down with one of the nation's best in Pitt's Dixon.

Athlon sits down with one of the nation's best in Pitt's Dixon.

Athlon Sports: Are you surprised that after all you have accomplished, people still seem to undervalue your program and assign specific characteristics to it?

Jamie Dixon: We were picked No. 1 in the Big East and No. 4 in the country, so it’s hard to say we’re overlooked. But part of it is where you come from. When you look at the schools who compete with us, they’ve had 40 to 50 years of tradition. The run we’ve had here has been nine years.

Do you think part of it is just coming from Pittsburgh?
There are just certain things that are going to be assumed about our program. When you come from Pittsburgh, there are assumptions that you’re going to be a tough, physical, hard-nosed defensive team, even the years when we led the country in offensive efficiency.

How important was it to the program to spend 10 days in Ireland in the late summer?
It was good, but you have to keep it in perspective. We had 10 practices before we went to Ireland, but we didn’t do it with a whole team. Most teams that do a trip like this have a lot of returning players, and when they have good years, people think it’s because of the trip. It’s more about the returning players.

How important is it to have that experience in a conference like the Big East?
We do have returning players, and that’s generally a good thing. But the reality is that we have three seniors, two juniors and eight underclassmen. Last year, the media was calling us the youngest team in the country. Now, we’re experienced. Is there any in-between? The guys we have returning know what to do, how to play and how to be successful.

The players you recruit are generally bigger, taller players. Even 5-11 Travon Woodall goes 190 pounds. How important is it to have strong players?
We’re generally always somewhat bigger than most teams in the conference, so that means we’re bigger than most teams in the country. We recruit big guys, but we also develop them through our strength coach. We have a culture of getting into the weight room.

There’s a lot of talk about the Big East becoming an all-sports conference and moving away from schools that don’t play football. Is that something you see on the horizon?
I can’t speak for other people in the conference, but I wouldn’t force anybody to do that. It wasn’t stated that was a requirement to be in the conference, and I don’t think they’ll change it to make it a requirement. But there’s always the possibility of realignment. That’s college athletics. We’re in a unique situation without every member playing every sport.

How do you feel about the expanded tournament?
I was pretty shocked when they were talking about going to 96. But I thought it was a foregone conclusion. From what I know about the dollars and the TV, I understood this was the best financial arrangement. I think [68] is good. I don’t think you can extend it another week. If you go to 68, you keep it in a three-week timeframe.

How is it possible to keep agents and their reps from getting to players?
You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. The only way I know to do a better job is if you’re communicating with agents to know what they’re doing.

Your team has a 132-11 record at the Peterson Events Center. All teams are good at home, but why are you so good?
Our road record is really good, too, compared to other teams’ road records. We take great pride in playing here. There’s no question. It feeds upon itself.

Your program has had so much success, but you haven’t reached the Final Four. Does that frustrate you?
I don’t know if it frustrates me. Our goal is to win a national championship, and anything less that is not satisfactory in my mind. I also had higher expectations for this program than anybody else did 12 years ago when I came here [as an assistant under Ben Howland]. Nobody else thought we would do what we have. You didn’t hear anybody else talking about going 132-11 at home.

Do people understand how hard it is to go to the Final Four?
People do realize how hard it is, but at the same time I think coaches, players and fans want more. That’s to be expected. Whatever you’ve done, in sports or anything else in life, generally your next goal is to do more. At times, people do forget what you have done or how hard it is to get to that spot. That’s part of setting goals and trying to reach them.

How important is the continuity you have benefited from in terms of players staying in the program?
There’s a lot of value to continuity. But I continue to say it’s not just guys leaving early for the NBA; it’s retaining guys and keeping them from dropping out of the program or flunking out or leaving for other opportunities. You need to have guys to continue to graduate and enjoy their time at Pittsburgh. You don’t want them to transfer. When you think about guys who leave early for the NBA, there aren’t many of them. At the end of the day, a program is going to suffer more because of guys transferring or flunking out.

 

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It had to be surprising to many Pittsburgh basketball fans when the media selected their Panthers as the preseason favorite in the Big East. It’s not that Pitt doesn’t deserve it; rather, given the team’s relatively low profile despite tremendous success (seven straight NCAA tourney berths, ’08 Big East tourney title) under coach Jamie Dixon, the team doesn’t receive enough attention. Dixon, who took over the program in 2003, spent some time discussing the 2010-11 season and the program he has helped build.

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